Toward the Future: Solidarity Without Borders
Solidarity Without Borders

Mike Zielinski analyzes the now-changed situation in El
Salvador and the crossroads facing the solidarity movement.

     This magazine is aptly titled for a discussion of the
future of the Salvadoran left and its solidarity supporters
in the U.S. El Salvador's nationwide elections cap a two-
year peace process which brought political transformations
unimaginable during the war years, while leading to a new
crossroads for the social justice movement.
     Win, lose, or draw in the elections, the FMLN and its
partners in the Democratic Convergence will continue with
the twin tasks of democratization and demilitarization. The
FMLN, however, faces the seemingly uphill struggle of
creating a democratic revolution in a unipolar world where -
- in too many cases -- left alternatives have collapsed or
been abandoned. The task is further complicated by the
FMLN's lack of resources and the restraints of a political
system where death squads still stalk the left.
     Solidarity activists in the U.S. are also challenged to
keep alive an issue which no longer grabs the headlines or
appears to be as urgent for the progressive community. The
struggle has shifted in El Salvador, but the stakes remain
high, and solidarity work still has a role to play in
revitalizing progressive politics in the U.S.
     After the crash of socialist dominoes, U.S. elites are
more preoccupied with spreading markets than stopping the
spread of communism. Policy makers have concluded that it's
time to move from free fire zones to free trade zones. Just
as Central America served as a testing ground for U.S.
counterinsurgency strategies in the 1980s, the region will
continue to be a battlefield in the new economic war of the
     While formal democracy exists in most of the
hemisphere, economic power continues to be concentrated in
the hands of a new, neoliberal right wing which is
supplanting the traditional rule of oligarchs and generals.
This new right is working hand in hand with the U.S. and
transnational capital to ensnare Latin America in a
neoliberal noose.
     Austerity measures batter the poor, while elites profit
from the privatization of social services. Latin America's
economic growth plummeted during the 1980s, while the number
of people living in extreme poverty exceeds 180 million --
nearly 50 percent of the continent's people.
     The same neoliberal noose which strangles Latin America
is being tightened here. From "enterprise zones" where
employers pay people of color less than minimum wage to
campaigns to privatize the educational system, increasingly
policies first implemented in the Third World are being
brought home. With the advent of hemispheric free trade
agreements the exploitation of labor in Central America's
spreading maquiladoras cannot be separated from joblessness
in Detroit.
     The increased conflict brought on by these policies
promises more social explosions like those which rocked the
hemisphere in recent years, from Argentina and Venezuela to
the Dominican Republic and South Central Los Angeles. As the
North-South conflict intensifies, U.S. policy will continue
on a collision course with social movements throughout this
     This is the new global context for organizing
solidarity with Third World struggles. Increasingly,
ecological, economic, and health crises spill across
frontiers. Foreign and domestic policies can no longer be
boxed off as separate areas of struggle. We must create a
solidarity without borders, inspired by a vision of change
across the Americas -- both North and South.
     The Central America solidarity movement must join in
larger challenges to the global economy, promoting campaigns
for fair trade to guarantee a just price for the resources
and labor of the Third World. An internationalist movement
needs to look within our own borders as well. Recent
immigrants to the U.S., many of whom have been uprooted by
U.S.-financed wars, are coming under increasing attack. A
goal of the solidarity movement should be to build support
for immigrants' rights and contribute to the fight against a
racist backlash. In California solidarity activists and
members of the Salvadoran community are already actively
engaged in multiracial coalitions standing up for
     While linking El Salvador to larger economic and social
issues, the solidarity movement's primary role will continue
to be providing accompaniment and direct support to the
process of change inside El Salvador.
     Within El Salvador, the left is refining its practice,
while maintaining a vision rooted in socialist ideals. While
it's no longer fashionable to speak of vanguards, the
revolutionary process in Central America has been led by
well-organized and determined movements like the FMLN and
the Sandinistas. While forging stronger links with
autonomous social movements, the solidarity movement should
continue to provide political and material support to the
     The creation of a new, civil society is of growing
importance not only in Central America, but in Eastern
Europe, Africa, Southeast Asia and wherever countries are
emerging from periods of sustained civil war or political
polarization. Within Latin America, a new popular majority
is emerging, ranging from indigenous and women's
organizations to street vendors and ecology groups.
     The process of social change must involve these new
sectors. The Salvadoran left is working to engage those who
have been historically marginalized like women, youth, and
the inhabitants of shantytowns. These relationships are just
taking shape in some cases, with activists struggling to
define how autonomous social movements relate to political
parties which themselves are just emerging from two decades
of clandestinity and democratic centralism into the chaos of
electoral politics.
     The U.S. solidarity movement should encourage these new
openings by forging stronger people-to-people ties among
women, youth, and ecology groups in El Salvador and their
counterparts here. While continuing to provide political and
material support to the FMLN, solidarity's focus must be
broadened. These people-to-people ties can be fostered
through delegations, cultural exchanges, work brigades, and
     During the war years, a wide range of "sistering" ties
were established, most notably sister cities and unions.
There's still a need for these forms of institutionalized
solidarity. But these solidarity relationships can also be
made more flexible, linking up environmental groups, women's
organizations, schools, or a single neighborhood. These
links should also be viewed as partnerships with each
community sharing its skills and experiences to build a
transnational movement for social justice.
     Our movement must also be prepared to respond to human
rights violations and press the Clinton administration to
fulfill its responsibility to rebuild a country shattered by
U.S. military hardware. Regardless of the electoral outcome,
the potential for right wing violence and backlash will run
     If the left begins to exercise a significant share of
power, the Salvadoran Armed Forces may ape their
counterparts in Haiti by seeking to eliminate or depose
elected officials of the left. The signals sent from
Washington will be crucial in determining the outcome.  The
solidarity movement needs to maintain its ability to
pressure the administration and Congress through human
rights emergency response systems.
     The El Salvador solidarity movement has organized for
close to 20 years. The romance of Third World revolution has
been replaced by the nitty-gritty of organizing social
movements which experience small gains and inevitable
setbacks. Working together -- across borders -- we can forge
a transnational movement which confronts new forms of
economic warfare, identifying the common ground between the
U.S. and El Salvador.
     The coalitions formed to oppose NAFTA point to new
directions for international solidarity. Progressive
opposition to NAFTA brought together working people from the
U.S. and Mexico, as well as environmental, human and civil
rights groups. This opposition was rooted in a solidarity
perspective which connected these issues on both sides of
the border, while highlighting the need to fight the
economic power of transnational capital.
     NAFTA may be a done deal, but the neoliberal programs
which NAFTA was created to serve will continue to provoke
resistance. The solidarity movement needs to focus its work
on linking communities in resistance from across the
Americas. Within the U.S., this means conscious efforts to
move beyond the peace movement's traditional outreach
targets in white, middle-class communities and reaching out
to those on the margins.
     Above all, U.S. activists can continue to learn from
social change movements in Central America. Socialists from
Nicaragua and El Salvador have suffered extreme repression
as well as political setbacks. Through it all they've
managed to stay rooted in their societies and play major
political roles. Forms of struggle may change, but the need
for radical transformations and people-to-people solidarity